Holiday scams: Beware

Holiday shopping online? Beware of holiday scams.

The holiday season has arrived! As you navigate the world of online shopping, beware of holiday scams. The scammers will be searching for new ways to exploit your shopping habits, especially online.

Online shopping is at an all-time high. In fact, the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3) estimates thousands of people will fall prey to scammers during the holiday season. While many scams will be variations on the types of fraud we mentioned in this blog, others will be specific to the holidays.

Retailers across the country offer special deals around the holiday season. Scammers often try to recreate that experience by making fake websites and social media campaigns that impersonate brands consumers know and trust. These fraudulent accounts will ask you to make a purchase, seemingly at a great deal, but you’ll never receive the product you purchase. Holiday scams not only cost you money, they also endanger your personal information.

Identifying holiday scams

What should you look for to help identify a scam? Here are a few of the signs:

1. Huge discounts on sought-after items, especially when promoted on social media posts or unfamiliar, insecure websites

2. Spelling errors and/or poor grammar on websites, ads or emails

3. No street address listed on website

4. No privacy policy on website

5. An unsolicited email or text (even if it appears to come from a legitimate company) asking you to click on a link or download an app to access a deal or arrange delivery

Fraudulent sellers

In addition to fraudulent sites and advertisements, be aware of potential auction fraud and gift card fraud. Auction fraud misrepresents an item on an auction site. Gift card fraud insists payment be made with a prepaid card. To that end, you should we wary of and avoid sellers like these:

1. Sellers who post an auction or advertisement as if they reside in the United States, then respond to questions by stating they are out of the country on business, for a family emergency or a similar excuse

2. Sellers who post an auction or advertisement under one name but ask that payment be sent to someone else

3. Sellers who request funds be wired directly to them via a money transfer company, prepaid card or bank-to-bank wire transfer

4. Sellers who act as authorized dealers or factory representatives of popular items in countries where there would be no such dealers

5. Sellers (and buyers, for that matter!) with mostly unfavorable feedback ratings or no ratings at all

Shopping online doesn’t have to be scary. One simple check will help ensure you’re only giving business to credible companies. Secure sites are safest, and they’re easily identifiable. To the left of the web address (where you type www), you should see a locked padlock, an intact key icon or the letters “https://”.

Protect yourself

Generally speaking, a credit card is the safest way to pay for an online purchase. Avoid transactions that require payment with prepaid cards or money transfers, as there is nothing that can be done to protect you as a buyer. Always request a tracking number when checking out. And remember: if a deal seems too good to be true, it probably is too good to be true.

If you are victim to fraudulent activity, be sure to report it. The Federal Trade Commission (online or 877-382-4357) and your state attorney general and consumer protection office should be made aware.

Holiday scams can take the joy out of gift-giving. Keep your information secure and watch for misleading sites, during the holiday season and always.